Blair Underwood Brings Star Power, Attention to AIDS

Ben Koconis - Special to the Informer | 11/12/2009, 1:34 a.m.

Although there was no Red Carpet, paparazzi or stylist on hand, a Hollywood celebrity visited the District€s powerful K Street corridor in Northwest earlier this fall to bring attention to a scourge that threatens to overtake the city.

Blair Underwood, an ardent AIDS activist and award-winning actor showed up Thu., Sept. 24 to officially open the AHF Blair Underwood Healthcare Center at 2141 K Street during a ribbon cutting ceremony. The free HIV/AIDS clinic is located near the George Washington University Hospital in the event that patients require hospital care.

€It is not about having your name on a building €" it€s very flattering and I am truly honored €" but it is about the work that needs to be done,€ Underwood told WTOP Radio during the Grand Opening ceremony.
Underwood, known for his roles in the NBC hit TV show, L.A Law and other critically acclaimed films, has promoted HIV/ AIDS awareness since he traveled to South Africa, a country ravaged by the disease, years ago. Underwood has been featured in several AHF campaigns, most notably AHF€s €Man Up€ media campaign which encourages men to be tested.Since its opening, the state-of-the- art clinic has slowly started to make inroads into the community through educational outreach, testing and treatment for residents living with HIV/AIDS. The spacious center with a pharmacy on-site has 15 rooms, including five examination rooms. In November, the clinic expanded its services to include a Men€s Wellness center for STD testing and treatment.

However, the District€s HIV infection rate remains at an alarming level. At least three percent of the city€s residents are living with HIV/AIDS, according to a study released this year by the HIV/AIDS Administration. The study further indicates that between one-third and one half of District residents may be unaware that they have been infected.

That€s why AHF, which claims to be the United States largest non-profit HIV/AIDS Healthcare service providers, decided to open a clinic in the District.

€I am delighted to announce the launch of this new AHF AIDS care facility named in honor of Blair Underwood,€ Michael Weinstein, AHF president said.

€This healthcare center €" AHF€s first in the District of Columbia offers a tremendous opportunity to provide quality HIV/AIDS care and significant outreach to some underserved populations in Washington, and I thank Blair for lending his name and joining us in our newest effort in the fight against AIDS here in the U.S.€

Chavonna Callahan, head medical assistant and office administrator said that they see about two or three patients per day and currently treat 15 patients on a regular basis. Fifty percent of the people who have visited the clinic have come in for primary care; the other 50 percent wanted to be tested, she said.

€We are providing care if you can pay or not, making it less of a burden for patients,€ Callahan said. We are trying to get the word out to people in the community that, if you need care we are here, she said. AHF provides medical care and services to more than 100,000 individuals in 21 countries worldwide.

One of the key services that the Underwood clinic provides is a mobile testing unit that€s dispatched three to four times a week into neighborhoods throughout the District. The mobile unit provides HIV testing and invaluable information.
AHF Blair Underwood Healthcare Center at 2141 K Street Photo by Victor Holt
€We park the van, pass out flyers and teach HIV 101,€ said Lorraine Braxton, the mobile testing unit manager.

Braxton said that the Underwood clinic stresses the importance of knowing your status.

€If you are negative, stay negative. If you are positive, it is not the end of the world, life goes on,€ she said.

Michael Kharfen, a spokesperson for the District€s Department of Health said that the District has a very diverse and modern epidemic. Infections are occurring in three categories of transmission.

€Forty percent of all newly reported transmissions have come from heterosexual intercourse, 25 percent from male to male intercourse, 15 percent from intravenous drug use and 20 percent from unknown sources,€ he said.